Monarchs are Endangered. We are doing our Part in Our Small Yard

My husband and I are very aware of what is happened to the Monarch population. We are happy to say that in our yard we have quite a few as well as Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. They like to feed on the Butterfly bushes and a native Long Island plant whose name I forgot that we bought at a plant sale at Suffolk Community Collage a few years ago. The babies are appearing at this time. They are also feeding at the Coneflowers and other assorted flowers in our garden. We are so happy about this because we would hate to see them extinct.

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I’ve been planting a bit of milkweed in my yard, which is really small as well. They haven’t been great as there is an aphid problem, but with that resolved, the patch should be up and running soon! I’m gonna plant a butterfly bush one of these days!

That’s great to hear! Be very careful with butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii), though, it’s invasive in many parts of the US and Canada:
https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/shrubs/butterfly-bush/controlling-butterfly-bushes.htm
Map of where it’s spreading outside of cultivation:
https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=BUDA2

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If you plant milkweed, make sure to use a species native to where you live.

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I have a wild bush of the invasive Tropical Milkweed in my yard. I’ve been meaning to replace it, but I don’t want to displace the Large Milkweed Bugs on it.

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I heard it’s better to grow native milkweed because it’s perennial and the leafy bits die off, helping to control some diseases that could accumulate and become harmful to Monarchs (Danaus plexippus).

I’ve also heard that it’s possible to grow Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) and minimize some risk by trimming/cutting back properly and taking special precautions. Some discussion here.

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Not something I can help with, for two reasons:

  1. Monarchs don’t migrate through my neighborhood, staying along the Rio Grande (in very small numbers - NM isn’t a big state for them anyways)
  2. Monarchs don’t host on A latifolia or A subverticillata, preferring A speciosa and A tuberosa where they can find it, which isn’t my yard because it’s too hot and dry!

By the way, I’d like to clarify the title. Monarchs haven’t been (and probably won’t be) listed federally with the Endangered Species Act. The latest news is their reclassification according to IUCN https://www.iucn.org/press-release/202207/migratory-monarch-butterfly-now-endangered-iucn-red-list

The truth is that a large majority of insects are probably threatened or endangered, but we won’t know until it’s too late. Monarchs are a good way to start a conversation with friends and neighbors about gardening with native plants, using fewer chemicals, and other environmentally conscious practices.

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I believe I’ve heard that monarchs don’t favor tuberosa that much either? Maybe its a locality thing. I’m up along the east coast where A. syriaca, A. incarnata, and A. tuberosa are common and monarchs are a good bit more stable, and they do definitely seem to favor syriaca and incarnata when available

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I’m in NC and based on the caterpillars in my yard, their preferences are for A. incarnata first, then A. syriaca and A. tuberosa. They will eat them all, especially those big fifth instars don’t seem to care much, but the little guys definitely prefer A. incarnata. I’m guessing this may have to do with it having smoother leaves compared to the almost woolly common milkweed leaves? It’s much better behaved in a small garden setting, too (clumping, not spreading as much, even does well as a container plant in a large pot on a terrace or balcony) compared to the much more aggressive common milkweed. As a bonus, I now have a nice population of swamp milkweed leaf beetles going as well. I’ve tried a few others (e.g. A. exaltata and A. verticillata) but seem to have trouble keeping those plants alive past seedling/first year stages. I’ve never seen them bloom, while the other three species all have flowered and produced seeds in my yard.

Another consideration is nectar sources to fuel the fall migration. Goldenrod, sneezeweed, asters and other fall bloomers work well, preferably whole meadows full of them with similar flower colors grouped so the patches of blooms can be seen from high up where the butterflies are migrating. Too many meadows in our area get mowed down in September for hay just right before the migration wave comes through and it always pains me to see those flowers cut down when they are most needed for the butterflies.

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I remember a book by Robert Pyle, in which he observed that many people call any large butterfly a “monarch” – and in the narrative, there were several times during his monarch survey where someone assured him that such-and-such place was full of “monarchs,” he would go there, see that the habitat was wrong for monarchs, but that it was full of tiger swallowtails.

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We had a similar experience once when I took my mom to the beach here in NC. We were told that Carolina Beach State Park was “full of monarchs” and since it was close to migration time we went to check it out. We didn’t see a single monarch, but lots of gulf fritillaries instead.

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I think I’m in the same category - I often try to balance what I can grow To Help Out with how much water it would take to do so.

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I thought Monarchs will use A. subverticillata as I’ve seen adults and caterpillars in numbers on this plant in southern New Mexico:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/16167168
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/16324101

That’s literally the first time I’ve seen a cat on horsetail, cool!

On the subject of Monarch endangerment: I came across an article in last week’s New Scientist titled “Monarch butterflies are doing surprisingly well in North America” (behind a paywall, unfortunately), but which is referring to this recent publication. It caught my attention in light of the recent listing of Monarchs as endangered by the IUCN and the fact that Monarchs have been on the Canadian Governments endangered list since 2016.

The paper states that, based on over 135,000 monarch observations between 1993 and 2018 from the North American Butterfly Association’s annual butterfly count, the Monarch population in North America seems to be holding steady, if not slightly increasing, rather than dramatically declining.

Of course, it’s not that simple. The authors recognize the well-recorded dramatic decline in numbers at overwintering sites but suggest that the summer breeding populations quickly grow to “typical” numbers in large parts of their summer range, even though fewer individuals are arriving from their wintering sites.

The authors are not arguing against Monarch conservation efforts. They recognize that Monarch populations are at risk from various factors and support such efforts. (I, too, have milkweed and Monarchs in my yard.) They do suggest, however, that more attention should be given to other butterfly species for which the data shows more significant population decline.

The paper is an interesting read, which gives a different perspective to the somewhat simplistic representation of Monarch decline that is frequently presented in media.

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